Welcome! This blog celebrates both the local and the catholic -- that is, universal -- aspects of the Roman Catholic Church by sharing reflections on experiences of the Church in a variety of settings and cultures. Postings will come from around the world and around the corner. You don't have to be a Catholic to come along.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

West Should Meet East

Pope John Paul II used to say that the Church needs to breathe with both lungs, east and west. Unfortunately, most Roman Catholics are only dimly aware that there is another lung.

From the time I first learned about the Eastern Rites, probably in high school, I've been fascinated by the idea that there are non-Roman Catholics -- just as Catholic as Latin Rite Catholics with the same faith and the same pope, but with very different liturgies, traditions and approaches. Even the art (icons) and architecture (onion domes) are different.

Among the Eastern Rite churches are the self-governing Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Geez, Maronite, Syrian, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Alankara churches as well as a number of churches of the Byzantine-Constantinopolitan family.

Despite my interest, the only Eastern liturgies I had attended were a Greek Orthodox wedding and a Maronite Rite funeral until four years ago. Our friend Stephanie Moore had a Byzantine Divine Liturgy offered for my father at a church in Columbus 40 days after his death, an Eastern rite tradition. Some time later we attended another liturgy at Stephanie's own parish, St. Emilian Byzantine Church in Brunswick, Ohio (pictured above in her photo).

Even though I practiced and tried hard, I could never get the right-to-left sign of the cross right. It didn't matter! The smells and the bells, the icon screen and the chants -- the mystery of it all swept me away.

"Too many people think candles are just candles, and incense is just smoke, and icons are just pictures," Stephanie wrote to me recently. "When you begin to understand what they truly represent, the Liturgy takes on a new and holy meaning that transcends us through the ages."

Transcendent it certainly is!

At the beginning of Advent 2011 a new English translation of the Roman Missal, accompanied by a major thrust in liturgical catechesis, should have Roman Catholics thinking a lot more about Latin Rite. This would be a great time for us to learn more about the Eastern Rites as well. The best way to do that is to experience the Divine Liturgy. You won't be sorry you did.

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